DVD Review: Weiner (2016; Documentary)

By , Contributor
With disgraced former Congressman and failed New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner back in the news, the timing for the IFC Films DVD release of the wildly acclaimed documentary Weiner couldn't have been better. One can almost imagine the filmmakers' likely reactions to the recent news of even more sexting on Weiner's part, plus the announcement that wife Huma Abedin is seeking a divorce. I'm not suggesting the filmmakers (including co-directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg) take any personal pleasure in Weiner and Abedin's on-going misfortunes, but the point of releasing a film is to make money. And with everyone talking about Anthony Weiner again, including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Weiner will almost certainly benefit from the renewed interest and new headlines.

Those unfamiliar with the Weiner odyssey need only check online for a vast array of recaps by innumerable news outlets. The film was already in-progress as Weiner was mounting a comeback run for Mayor of New York City in 2013, following his initial sexting scandal. Leading in the polls and seemingly successfully overcoming his tainted past, out comes new sexting revelations courtesy of future porn star Sydney Leathers. The focus of the doc shifts to the immense damage control needed to keep Weiner's mayoral run from imploding (no spoiler alert needed: implode is exactly what it does, despite Weiner's dogged efforts).

It's easy to see what impressed critics with Weiner. The 96-minute doc flies by at the pace of a fictional film. It's funny, fascinating, and intensely cringe-worthy. It features a deeply flawed antihero in Anthony Weiner, a man of great political conviction and undeniable charisma who just can't keep his personal life in order. Though she is mostly only seen as a weary presence in the background, wife Abedin (longtime—and still-current—aide to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) provides a sort of "everyman" figure for audiences to relate to (i.e. 'What would you do if you were in her shoes?'). And then there's Leathers, who emerges as a shadowy villain of sorts, her motivations to ruin Weiner never entirely clear (instant fame seems to play a big role, though she wasn't directly involved with the film).

What we don't really get with Weiner is any sense of true depth. It's probably miracle enough that Weiner allowed the filmmakers to continue with the documentary in the face of everything crumbling down around him. But there's a skin-deep quality to the story that leaves one inevitably wondering who Anthony Weiner really is and why such an apparently sharp guy with so much going for him is so intent on self-destruction. As a document of a bizarre political footnote, the documentary is a must-see. As an in-depth portrait of a intriguing human being, Weiner doesn't quite make the mark. High recommended, nonetheless.


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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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